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Lesson 34: The Translator and Specialisation
Everything is being translated: from flashy product descriptions, through church brochures, to nuclear plant designs. Some of these domains give more pleasure to translate, and some of them bring more money. This is why a translator’s decision on what to specialise in may be crucial to the whole career. Not specialising in anything is no longer an option in translation.
What to take into account when considering specialist areas?
Not everyone could be a literary translator, try as they may. Not everyone may do well with legal texts. Some people, like me, could never become medical interpreters (tried once, no thank you). There’s nothing shameful about being good at one kind of text, and refuse the other. Our own skills and predispositions are crucial.
Rates are not equal across the domains. Generally speaking, the richer the area of business, the more money there is to spend on translations. With this assumption in mind, it’s not hard to identify potential leaders in terms of high rates. If we don’t want to end up complaining about low income, we should keep this factor in mind.
We can’t go against our own preferences, can we? If I had to translate a text I didn’t enjoy, or on a subject I find unpleasant, or even something that goes against my beliefs, I’d struggle. I would be able to deliver correct translation, but… where’s the flair? Where’s the little ingenuity that I could be proud of? It must have stayed with the texts I like.
Personally, I decided to mix these two when choosing my specialist areas. There’s something I do for money (legal), something I’m skilled in (business), and something I really enjoy (IT). That’s a good starting point, and I have the balance I need.
How to get specialised?
It is a real issue for recent graduates, or for people entering the profession. They seem to think that they start with nothing, since they haven’t translated much within a certain domain. Well, I think that we should know what our specialist areas are before we gain experience within them. It’s like with doctors: they study for their specialisation first, and only then they start work. Not the other way round! So, let’s assume that you’ve just graduated from a degree in translation and you want to start working. What do you do?
First of all, think of these three factors I’ve mentioned above and try to come up with ideas on your specialist areas. Don’t forget to consider them against the demand in your language pair and in your country (for example: not every country exports or imports oil, while gas and oil industry pays well).
You should have your specialist areas in mind when creating your portfolio of translations. Then you’d be able to support your claims with hard evidence. Also, it will be a chance for you to check whether you can really cope with these domains.
3. Education and development
You have your degree in translation, fine. But if you want to specialise in law or IT, you stand more chance to get your foot in if you have an additional qualification in your specialist area. It doesn’t have to be a degree. Look for courses, webinars, conferences, presentations, industry certifications. Why not joining subject-related professional organisations?
4. Read on the subject
Read, in both (all?) languages. Subscribe to professional publications within the field, read professional blogs, sign up to newsletters. This is the best way to become an expert within the field. You get subject-related knowledge, but also you build up your terminology base.
5. Target customers
Try finding clients who would appreciate your specialist areas and don’t be too scared to say that you work only in these domains. Even agencies are now far from having a bunch of translators doing everything for everyone, and you can negotiate a higher rate as an expert in a field.
How did your journey to being a specialist look like? Did you have to plan for it, or it just sort of happened?